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January 17, 2007

SCS.comWith conference schedules only a few weeks into play, league standings couldn’t be more shaken up. You would have to be a psychic to be able to pick a conference winner right now - from any league. Luckily, there are some top-notch conference matchups this week to tell us a little more about what we need to know as far as the favorite to win each conference. From top 15 showdowns in the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-10 to battles for first place in the Big West, MAC, and WAC, these next few days have it all. Here is a breakdown of can’t-miss games from each conference with a close race for first that should have major impacts on the NCAA Tournament come March.

The Big Six Conferences

ACC - #4 North Carolina (15-2, 2-1) @ #13 Clemson (17-1, 3-1), Wednesday

This is a game of two different tales. North Carolina comes into this game ranked fourth in the nation, but also sitting in fourth place in the ACC. Higher expectations were expected for the Tar Heels in the ACC rather than fourth. Meanwhile, Clemson couldn’t be happier with the position they’re in now. The Tigers were 17-0 and the only undefeated team in the nation until a close upset loss at Maryland last week. Both teams are greatly capable of competing for the ACC title, and this game will go a long way towards that. My Pick: In the end, I think the impact of the Tar Heels’ big men, Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, will be too much for Clemson. North Carolina by 9.

Big East - Marquette (16-4, 3-2) @ #6 Pittsburgh (17-2, 5-0), Sunday

After two losses to Providence and Syracuse to start Marquette’s Big East season, the Golden Eagles have rebounded with wins against Connecticut, West Virginia, and Louisville and now find themselves tied for fifth in the Big East. Pittsburgh started the regular season off hot at 10-0 before losing two road games at Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. Since then, the Panthers have won seven straight, including 5 Big East games, and are in sole possession of first place in the Big East. My Pick: I see Marquette staying close with the Panthers, but 7-0 center Aaron Gray should be dominant against the Golden Eagles. Pittsburgh by 7.

Big Ten - #3 Wisconsin (17-1, 3-0) @ Illinois (13-6, 3-1), Saturday

Wisconsin is one of the hottest teams in the nation, and they have one of the hottest players in the nation. Alando Tucker can do it all for the Badgers. Wisconsin has won thirteen games in a row since losing by two points early in the year at Missouri State. Illinois has not been so hot. The Fighting Illini have lost four of their last five games, including conference losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State. They now find themselves in second-to-last place in the Big Ten, and in desperate need of a big win. My Pick: Wisconsin could be the best team in the nation right now. They should prove that Saturday. Wisconsin by 18.

Big 12 - #10 Oklahoma State (16-2, 2-1) @ #9 Texas A&M (15-2, 3-0), Saturday

Both teams come into this game red hot. Oklahoma State is fresh off an unbelievable triple-overtime win against Texas. The Cowboys showed that they can really compete for the Big 12 title, and are in third place right now. Texas A&M has won eight in a row since losing back-to-back road games at LSU and UCLA, their only two losses on the season. The Aggies are out to prove that they are the legit team in the Big 12, as they weigh in at 3-0 and in first place. My Pick: Mario Boggan already showed Texas earlier this week that he is scary good. I think he will show one more Texas team how good he and his Cowboy team really are. Oklahoma State by 4.

Pac-10 - #15 Arizona (13-3, 4-2) @ #2 UCLA (15-1, 4-1), Saturday

Arizona started the season off pretty strong, but has lost two of their last three games to Washington State and Oregon. The Wildcats can easily get the Pac-10 championship trophy, but they will almost definitely need this game to do that. That’s because their opponent, UCLA, is in first place in the Pac-10 right now, with their only loss being by a bucket at Oregon, the Bruins’ only loss of the season. UCLA is also out to reclaim their #1 spot in the nation, as it was stolen a week ago by North Carolina and now belongs to Florida. My Pick: The speedy guard play of Arron Aflallo, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison will be too quick for the Wildcats. UCLA by 15.

SEC - #20 LSU (12-4, 1-1) @ Arkansas (12-5, 1-2), Saturday

Both the Tigers and Razorbacks come into this contest with something to prove. LSU is in first place in the SEC West right now, but has had a somewhat disappointing season thus far, with tough losses against Wichita State, Texas, Washington, and Alabama. For a team that has visions of making it to the Final Four for the second straight year, the Tigers will have to step it up. Meanwhile, Arkansas sits in third in the SEC West, but has also had a disappointing season to this point. Two tough conference road losses to Florida and Mississippi have the Hogs in desperate need of a win. A win on Saturday would shoot them up to second and possibly first in the West. My Pick: Look for this to be a very close basketball game throughout the entire contest. I think it will come down to one or two possessions at the very end, and “Big Baby” Glen Davis should propel the Tigers to victory. LSU by 2.

The Mid-Major Conferences

Atlantic Ten - Massachusetts (13-4, 3-0) @ Xavier (12-5, 2-1), Thursday

Massachusetts is probably one of the most underrated teams in the nation. The Minutemen’s only losses have come to Pittsburgh, Boston College, Kentucky, and Miami, all possible NCAA Tournament participants. UMass is trying to put their name in the NCAA Tournament participant list too. They are doing a good job so far, as they are alone in first place in the Atlantic Ten right now. Xavier has had a first half of a season they want to try to forget. Four major non-conference losses to Alabama, Creighton, Cincinnatti, and Bucknell had the Musketeers in a loss of words. However, they have come back quite nicely in conference play and are now in fourth place in the Atlantic Ten. They will have a chance to jump into second place if they can win Thursday night. My Pick: I still am not giving up on the Musketeers’ guard Stanley Burrell as the best player in the Atlantic Ten, and I think he will prove that he is in this game. Xavier by 6.

Big West - Cal State-Fullerton (13-3, 4-1) @ Long Beach State (11-5, 2-1), Thursday

These are two teams that, if given the chance, can make some major upsets happen come NCAA Tournament time. However, reigning from the Big West Conference, they are not likely to be given that chance, unless they finish first in their conference. Right now, Cal State-Fullerton comes in at that position. The Titans’ only conference loss so far was to UC-Santa Barbara. On the other side of the court, Long Beach State is in second in the Big West standings. The 49ers are unbeaten at home this year and have trio of guards in Aaron Nixon, Kejuan Johnson, and Kevin Houston. The winner of this game will take over first place in the Big West and will have the driver’s seat for the remainder of the season for that ticket to the Big Dance. My Pick: The 49ers are too good at home, especially in conference play. They should remain unbeaten their past this week. Long Beach State by 10.

MAC - Kent State (9-7, 2-1) @ Akron (11-4, 2-1), Wednesday

This should be one of the best games of the week that you probably won’t hear about. The Golden Flashes and the Zips are tied right now for first place in the MAC North. Kent State does not have an impressive record so far at 9-7, but has played a tough schedule including traveling to Duke and Ohio State. Akron, on the other hand has an impressive record at 11-4, but a lousy schedule. Their only tough game was against Nevada, which they lost by a bucket. My Pick: Romeo Travis and the Zips should take care of Kent State easily. Akron by 13.

WAC - #12 Nevada (16-1, 4-0) @ New Mexico State (14-3, 4-0), Saturday

Nevada has been busy representing mid-major schools this year so far. The Wolf Pack is ranked #12 and the only mid-major team in the Fab 15. Their only loss came early in the year to UNLV. Nevada is currently tied for first with New Mexico State. Speaking of the Aggies, they could be the hottest mid-major team in hoops right now. Since starting the season off at 1-3, they have won an impressive thirteen in a row, including four WAC games. In a game that pits two 4-0 teams together for the right to have sole possession of first place in the WAC, this is what could be the best mid-major game of the year. My Pick: Although I could easily see the Aggies upsetting Nevada and representing their own mid-major school, I think Nick Fazekas and the Wolf Pack will hold on for the win and first place. Nevada by 8.

Last Week’s Record: 2-3
Season Record: 8-4

Now that you know the ten conference games that will shake up different conferences, be sure to check them out as the best time of college basketball is upon us. This is conference play.

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